DRM turned a 10 minute purchase into a 2 and a half nightmare (and counting). I wanted to buy a book: I ended up in a journey which made it dead clear that in a sane world, there is absolutely no space for DRM-protected contents. The only real warning I have about this article is that it may make you feel sick.
Today is the Free Software Foundation's "Day Against DRM" and it seems like an auspicious time to launch a Kickstarter campaign to support the completion of the Lib-Ray standard for publishing high-definition videos on fixed media. I've been posting my progress on the prototypes here in Free Software Magazine, and it's clear to me that this is now just a matter of being able to dedicate the time and resources to finish the job.
Having defined the terms that represent the core values of free culture and free software in a previous column, today I want to talk about the terms that define its boundaries: how we describe them and defend them. And what's on the other side of them.
It's never nice to hear about the demise of a piece of simply brilliant software. when I discovered that get_iplayer was being pulled by its developer I was, to use a cliche, gutted. The potential loss of a piece of software that did just what it said on the tin is bad enough but it was impeccably free and open. What's more, it was an example to the BBC about how things should be done. It was the work of one lone, unpaid developer, not the product of professional developers subsidised by the BBC licence. What happened exemplifies everything that is wrong with proprietary software.
For the benefit on non-British readers I should explain that the BBC has an excellent website and it includes the iPlayer which allows visitors to view BBC audo and video content in their browser. When it was launched it was, surprise, Windows only. As many licence fee payers were also GNU/Linux users, they were enraged that they had effectively been excluded from the experience. BBC FUD ensued. Eventually though, lobbying and petitioning paid off and the BBC enabled the iPlayer for platforms other than Windows. You needed (and still need) (Adobe) Flash to view the video content and the content was encumbered with DRM and was not yours for keeps. It was only a thirty-day visitor to your hard drive.
There seems to be no respite from the predations of Microsoft FUD and the machinations of Big Business. Just when it seemed safe to come out of the closet and admit to being a user of free and open source software without being accused of being a Communist, it appears that we are now criminals too--even if we are not using pirated versions of proprietary software. The culprit this time is something called "Special 301", an annual review of the status of foreign intellectual property laws carried out under the auspices of the Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) which is an Executive Office of the President. It's definition of criminal would make criminals of every single user of FOSS.
Let me issue a disclaimer right off. Before I ever typed my first GNU/Linux command in a terminal the Free Software Foundation was fighting the good fight for free software and all the issues surrounding individual freedom and privacy both on and offline. All of us owe it a debt of gratitude for the work is has done and continues to do on behalf of the principles of a free society and free computing.
In this opening salvo, I will reprise the technical terms and history of DRM and thereafter I will try to keep you abreast of the issues for computer users in general and free software in particular. Hopefully, I will in fact be chronicling the death throes of DRM.
In this post I will interview Paul Battley, the man who wrote the program that worked around the DRM loophole at the BBC. No GNU/Linux user needs to be told what DRM (aka Trusted Computing, aka Palladium) is and why it is a thoroughly pernicious and Hydra-headed monster that needs to be slain. I hope to make that the subject of a post in the very near future, but in the meantime here is a quick thumbnail sketch of what happened with the BBC's iPlayer, to bring you up to speed. The interview with Paul Battley follows.
Which do you like best: the satisfying, rich taste of principle in free software? Or do you prefer the less morally filling and pragmatic goodness of open source? Do you wish people would stop endlessly rehashing the whole question of "free" versus "open source?" Or do you enjoy the chance to talk about goals and philosophy? As you might suspect, since I'm bringing it up...
Recently, I've become involved in the ongoing discussion between the Creative Commons and Debian over the "freeness" of the Creative Commons Public License (CCPL), version 3. Specifically, the hope is that Debian will declare the CC-By and CC-By-SA licenses "free", as most people intuitively feel they are. There are a number of minor issues that I think both sides have now agreed to, leaving only the question of "Technological Protection Measures" (TPM, also known as "Digital Rights Management" or "Digital Restrictions Management" or "DRM").
There has been a lot of hoo-hah recently regarding the pros and cons of certain aspects of the drafts of Version 3 of the GNU General Public License from the Free Software Foundation. The originator of the Linux kernel, Linus Torvalds himself, is playing a role here. Unfortunately, each side has taken to the ploy of misrepresenting the other’s points. Arguments are getting heated to such an extent that you need to wear an asbestos suit just to look at the issues. However, on examination, not only do I find that both sides have valid issues but I also believe an obvious solution exists that will make most, if not all, satisfied and the world a less flame-ridden obstacle course.
No, not Winnie-the-Pooh's friend, but that computer I mentioned last week. Do you feel cheated? Maybe you were expecting a murder mystery instead? Although doesn't Eeyore the donkey seem more like the died-of-natural-causes type? Let me briefly eulogize Eeyore the computer before wandering erratically to a new subject: copyright control.
Eeyore-the-computer is dead
With the draft of the GNU General Public License Version 3 (GPLv3) have come many interesting comments, although not all of which I have found positive. While I understand proprietary vendors have offered complaints against a license they do not even use, I was surprised that Linus Torvalds had taken some issues which I thought were in any case misguided criticisms.
For Americans, yesterday was an important holiday. It’s the commemoration of the United States’ Declaration of Independence. There are many countries around the world that declared independence from European colonial powers, but the United States was the first, and the language of that declaration was perhaps the more strident and high-minded because of it. It’s a beautiful revolutionary document, both in its language and its ideals. It’s not the first declaration of freedom, nor will it be the last.
One thing that separates free software enthusiasts from "pirates" is the desire to be the good guys. We may not agree with copyright law, but rather than break them, we've opted to subvert them—to use them against themselves. The result is much more freedom for the user, who's suddenly liberated in ways that she might not even appreciate or even be aware of. But what would happen in a world where every user of proprietary software was forced to obey all those EULA's to their fullest extent?
I’m a big believer in rights. I believe in the right to speak your mind, the right to act however you want, as long as you aren’t interfering with others’ rights; I even believe in more controversial rights like “the right to die”, and one of my favorites is the right to be stupid.
What do I mean by that? Well, I think that if people want to jump out of airplanes, down cliffs, or free-climb El Capitan, like Captain Kirk, they should be allowed to do that—even though it’s very clear that they may be stupid things to do that are likely to get them killed. One of the more powerful and hard to refute arguments for Digital Rights/Restrictions Management (DRM), though, is that it can be used in life-critical systems to prevent failures due to users’ own modifications—and it seems to me that this is a sticky case of balancing the right to be stupid with the right to be ignorant.
I'm a big believer in rights. I believe in the right to speak your mind, the right to act however you want, as long as you aren't interfering with others' rights; I even believe in more controversial rights like 'the right to die', and one of my favorites is the right to be stupid.
What do I mean by that? Well, I think that if people want to jump out of airplanes, down cliffs, or free-climb El Capitan, like Captain Kirk, they should be allowed to do that -- even though it's very clear that they may be stupid things to do that are likely to get them killed. One of the more powerful and hard to refute arguments for Digital Rights/Restrictions Management (DRM), though, is that it can be used in life-critical systems to prevent failures due to users' own modifications -- and it seems to me that this is a sticky case of balancing the right to be stupid with the right to be ignorant.